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Dublin: 6°C Thursday 27 January 2022

Humanless libraries and driverless cars: 'We will live to regret them'

The Declaration of Amsterdam, which commits EU support for driverless vehicles, may have been endorsed by Transport Ministers last April, writes Eric Nolan.

Eric Nolan Father of three

I HAVE ALWAYS loved the library. I remember being a child and experiencing the wonder of shelves upon shelves of books. A quiet place where I could get a card and choose any book I liked, queue up and present it to the librarian and take it home.

I’m delighted to get to experience the same thing all over again with my children. They really look forward to our trips to the library. They regularly enter the colouring competitions as well as choosing books for the week. Their interaction with the librarians is highly educational too, it’s the first thing they do entirely on their own steam.

So, you can imagine how disappointed I was to read about the staffless library trials that have taken place. Minister Simon Coveney has said that the staffless operation will only be to extend opening hours, and that staff will not be replaced. In fairness to him, he may well believe that.

The reality will most likely be very different

It will be easy for those in charge of the purse strings to compare costs between the staffed and unstaffed times. When a librarian calls in sick or takes holidays, it will be extremely tempting to save money by not covering them. When a librarian retires, it will be all too easy not to hire a replacement.

When humans are compared to technology on a purely cost basis, there will only be one winner. In times of tight budgets and competing demands on local authorities resources, the easy savings will be made. Librarians will be the low hanging fruit.

Children won’t be the only ones affected, libraries are quiet places used by many. In this fast-paced technological age where more and more of our interactions are with machines, we should be fighting to keep a refuge of such value.

My children’s children may well never get to experience the joys that we did. Librarians are an integral part of the experience. I think we will live to regret the loss of them if it comes to pass.

What we need is a thoughtful approach to technology

driverless car A driverless car.

Blindly allowing the “Market” to dictate our path has not served us well in recent times. Technology can either set us free or imprison us. We need to set clear goals about the kind of world we want to live in. We need to value human interaction.

A seismic shift in our consciousness is required. Driverless cars could be the shift that demands action. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the USA alone. Ireland as a whole is no stranger to the truck driving industry.

Calculating the secondary employment created in accommodation, rest stops and restaurants would be a challenge. The number of taxis, couriers and other driving jobs would easily dwarf this.

Without major changes to our entire economic system it is hard to see these job losses being absorbed. The reduction in demand for products and services as well as the large-scale defaulting on debts by those newly unemployed could see the whole house of cards come crashing down.

A problem of this magnitude needs scrutiny and planning

Yet the Government decides to pander to a European Declaration that I am sure no-one outside of officialdom has read? The Declaration of Amsterdam, which commits EU support for the introduction of driverless vehicles, may have been endorsed by Transport Ministers last April, but have you heard of it? Blindly on we go.

We are in an age of raw populism leading to a widespread rejection of expertise as well as dysfunctional governments firefighting against bad decisions like Brexit and the impending Le Pen coronation in France.

The self-proclaimed land of the free has elected an emblematic demagogue as President. We in Ireland are no exceptions. We have a do-nothing Dáil which lives up to the name. We must do better. You might argue that we have gotten away with it so far, but we cannot continue to refuse to seriously plan for our future.

Eric Nolan is the Labour Party’s Local Area Representative for Cork East. He was constituency party campaign manager for the Marriage Equality Referendum. He works as an aviation firefighter at Cork Airport and has served as a shop steward and worker director.

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About the author:

Eric Nolan  / Father of three

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